Playing the Parts

        Seeing some of the greatest actors in American film history was by far the element of the class I most enjoyed. I have a hard time catching and appreciating the more technical aspects of film production, but I enjoyed watching the films and both appreciating and criticizing the job the actors and actresses did in making their characters come to life.

        I thought the best was saved for last, at least as far as acting went in the class. The two most superb acting performances, in my opinion, were turned in by Vivien Leigh as Blanche and Marlon Brando as Stanley in the 1951 filmA Streetcar Named Desire, based on the 1947 play by Tennessee Williams.

        Leigh and Brando not only successfully transformed themselves into their roles, but they enhanced the character they represented in a positive manner. Of all the films we watched this semester, I thought Leigh and Brando were faced with the most daunting task—portraying two characters so complex and multi-faceted. Both Blanche and Stanley were complex personalities, both of which were fraught with several sides to their personality. Both underwent negative changes through the course of the film, and Leigh and Brando did a marvelous job at portraying their decaying personalities.

        Leigh did an excellent job of portraying Blanche’s two characters—the one on the surface, the person she pretends to be, and the real Blanche. Leigh represents Blanche’s surface character of a naïve, proper southern belle well, but the viewer still has a feeling that what one sees is not all there is to Blanche. We later find out our suspicions are correct as we learn about her history of sexual promiscuity and uncover her conniving, deceitful nature.

        As the film goes on, Blanche takes a turn for the worst as she is constantly pestered by the overbearing and oppressing personality of Stanley, who immediately sees through her facade of gentleness and proper behavior. As the film progresses, we see Blanche devolve into a woman who is teetering on the edge of insanity. Perhaps it is the pressure of attempting to live out a lie or perhaps it is the continual berating that climaxes in rape on the part of Stanley, but Blanche is a shell of the strong woman she seemed to be at the beginning of the film. Leigh does an excellent job of depicting all of this.

        Brando does an equally commendable job in playing Stanley and depicting his devolution. Brando depicts Stanley’s sometimes rough and uncouth, what-you-see-is-what-you-get personality, but he too digresses into near insanity by the end of the film, perhaps from living with a woman he so passionately despises. The viewer has an underlying feeling that this otherwise sensible man will eventually let his anger spin out of control and Brando does an excellent job of conveying that.

        One actress whom I though played herself more that she played her character was Audrey Hepburn in George Cukor’s 1964 film My Fair Lady based on the 1956 play My Fair Lady, by Alan J. Lerner, originally based on the 1913 play Pygmalion, by George Bernard Shaw.

        Hepburn failed to convince me to believe that she truly was the uneducated, classless flower girl that she played in the film. She looks too good throughout the film, and she still has a high-class, princess-like feel to her. Perhaps this is so because I am used to seeing Hepburn in roles much closer to the woman she turns into at the end of My Fair Lady, but I do not believe she was very convincing in the movie’s initial phase.

        Other actors and actresses I thought did an excellent job of portraying the characters assigned to them were Leslie Howard, who managed to convey Professor Higgins’ blunt, abrasive personality while still managing to show the heart and passion with which he went about his work, and his feelings for Eliza (Wendy Hiller) in the 1938 Anthony Asquith-Leslie Howard film Pygmalion. Another acting job I especially appreciated was Claire Bloom’s Nora in the 1973 film A Doll’s House, directed by Patrick Garland and based on Henrik Ibsen’s 1879 play. Bloom was able to capture the essence of a troubled woman who finally gains the courage to rise up and stand up for her own needs, wants and desires. Finally I also enjoyed Anthony Hopkins’ performance in the same film. Hopkins was able to capture Torvald’s surface charm and real obliviousness to the fact that his relationship was an empty one.

        On the whole, I enjoyed the acting in ninety percent of the films we watched this semester, but I thought the portrayals by Leigh, Brando, Howard, Bloom and Hopkins stood above the rest.

Tommy Dillard

Table of Contents